A new study, published in the Journal of Biomechanics , examines what may cause chronic back pain in runners and the exercises to help prevent it. The study findings suggest that they runners with weak deep core muscles are at higher risk of developing low back pain. And, unfortunately, most people's deep core muscles are not nearly as strong as they should be.
To examine the role of the superficial and deep core muscles, researchers from the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center used motion detection technology and force-measuring floor plates to estimate muscle movements during activity.
"We measured the dimensions of runners' bodies and how they moved to create a computer model that is specific to that person. That allows us to examine how each bone moves and how much pressure is put on each joint," said chief investigator Ajit Chaudhari. "We can then use that simulation to virtually 'turn off' certain muscles and observe how the rest of the body compensates."
What they found is that weak deep core muscles force more superficial muscles like the abs to work harder and reach fatigue faster. When those superficial muscles are doing the deep core should be doing, there are often painful consequences.
"When your deep core is weak, your body is able to compensate in a way that allows you to basically run the same way," Chaudhari said. "But that increases the load on your spine in a way that may lead to low back pain."
Experts say it's common for even well-conditioned athletes to neglect their deep core . Traditional ab exercises with a large range of motion, such as sit-ups or back extensions, will not give you the strong core needed to be a better runner. Instead, Chaudhari says exercises such as plans that focus on stabilizing the core, especially on unstable surfaces, what's really going to make you a better runner.
"Working on a six-pack and trying to become a better runner is definitely not the same thing." Chaudhari said. " Static exercises that force you to fire your core and hold your body in place are what's really going to make you a better runner."